ORIAN BARKI AND MERIEM BENNANI’S SERIES FROM SELF-ISOLATION

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Orian Barki and Meriem Bennani, still from 2 Lizards Episode , 2020. Courtesy of the artists.

Artists have long used Instagram as an artistic outlet, not only to share but to create “site-specific” works using its readily available features. The unavoidable isolation period of the past couple of months has put ordinary ways of art-making on hold while enabling artists to find other venues for expression. Artist Meriem Bennani and filmmaker Orian Barki made an Instagram sensation with the release of 2 Lizards, a meaningful and timely IGTV video series starring two inseparable anthropomorphized lizards going about the quarantine period, dubbed by Meriem and Orian themselves and rendered in 3-D set against real footage of New York City.

The five videos to date, shared on Meriem’s IG account, are rooted in actual circumstances, each episode presenting different idiosyncratic day-to-day realities, from “beautiful moments of communion through sound waves” to anxiety, empathy, and the confinement to a gadget-mediated life; a fictitious, humorous, yet the bleak image of NYC’s residents grappling with the virus outbreak. Each episode lasts for less than three minutes; enough to keep viewers entertained and immersed in the (new) world we experience in more or less similar ways.

Targeted directly at phones for horizontal eye-view, the episodes are distinctive from one another and emphasize theme-based aspects of the lizards’ ways of getting a grip on the situation – their neighborhood and themselves. The first episode posted on March 18 sees them dancing on a Brooklyn-apartment rooftop while witnessing impromptu concerts from around the blocks, now a ubiquitous gesture as many cities across the world have followed suit. The second episode shows one of the first attempts of going out driving on what would perhaps be the first month of lock-down. Augmented anxiety and paranoia of getting infected adds to the otherwise surrealist environment, further enhanced in the third episode when they hallucinate seeing the TV anchor on the side of the road calling them “Covid!.” “The world will never be the same,” says the lizard, like the echoes of the media tagline. Differently, the fourth episode brings into attention the heroic lives of nurses working on autopilot, characters dubbed by real nurses from the Lenox Hill Hospital, Cady Chaplin and Elizabeth Jaeger, featuring a series of posters made for the nurses’ break room.

The latest episode highlights a short trip to what seems to be a deserted, museum-like Central Square where only a capitalist euphoria surfaces via the colorful billboards. A birthday-call from Meriem’s actual mother working as a pharmacist in Morroco reveals how family moments are now frivolous and ancillary to what really matters – a virus-free hygiene. This is not the first time artist Bennani cast her mother in video works. Her recent video installation Party on the Caps (2019) recently exhibited at CLEARING gallery in Bushwick, presents a sociopolitical dystopia in which her mom is featured in a key role. In fact, collaboration is a crucial element in 2 Lizards video series. According to Meriem, it all began as a spontaneous idea, coming out of a desire to collaborate and a way to connect, each episode featuring collaborations with artists for original music scores and voice-overs by friends or fans who excitingly reached out to be part of these novel IGTV Covid-19 diaries.

As art is said to be a mirror of the society, 2 Lizards has set to do pretty much that – with direct references to people, events, the lizards are the embodiment of millions of people across the world who are going through the same anxious and lethargic states of being, and a day-to-day life mediated by gadgets. A mirror for us to reflect – on the society we shaped but primarily on ourselves.

Text: Adelina Luft

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All images ©  the artist(s)